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Chapter 32.

  • The bogus proclamation
  • -- the Wade -- Davis manifesto -- resignation of Mr. Chase -- Fessenden Succeeds him -- the Greeley peace conference -- Jaquess -- Gilmore mission -- letter of Raymond -- bad outlook for the election -- Mr. Lincoln on the issues of the campaign -- President's secret memorandum -- meeting of Democratic national convention -- McClellan nominated -- his letter of acceptance -- Lincoln reelected -- his speech on night of election -- the electoral vote -- annual message of December 6, 1864 -- resignation of McClellan from the army
    The seizure of the New York Journal of commerce and New York World, in May, 1864, for publishing a forged proclamation calling for four hundred thousand more troops, had caused great excitement among the critics of Mr. Lincoln's administration. The terrible slaughter of Grant's opening campaign against Richmond rendered the country painfully sensitive to such news at the moment; and the forgery, which proved to be the work of two young Bohemians of the press, accomplished its purpose of raising the price of gold, and throwing the Stock Exchange into a temporary fever. Telegraphic announcement of the imposture soon quieted the flurry, and the quick detection of the guilty parties reduced the incident to its true rank; but the fact that the fiery Secretary of War had meanwhile issued orders for the suppression of both newspapers and the arrest of their editors was [454] neither forgiven nor forgotten. The editors were never incarcerated, and the journals resumed publication after an interval of only two days, but the incident was vigorously employed during the entire summer as a means of attack upon the administration.

    Violent opposition to Mr. Lincoln came also from those members of both Houses of Congress who disapproved his attitude on reconstruction. Though that part of his message of December 8, 1863, relating to the formation of loyal State governments in districts which had been in rebellion at first received enthusiastic commendation from both conservatives and radicals, it was soon evident that the millennium had not yet arrived, and that in a Congress composed of men of such positive convictions and vehement character, there were many who would not submit permanently to the leadership of any man, least of all to that of one so reasonable, so devoid of malice, as the President.

    Henry Winter Davis at once moved that that part of the message be referred to a special committee of which he was chairman, and on February 15 reported a bill whose preamble declared the Confederate States completely out of the Union; prescribing a totally different method of reestablishing loyal State governments, one of the essentials being the prohibition of slavery. Congress rejected the preamble, but after extensive debate accepted the bill, which breathed the same spirit throughout. The measure was also finally acceded to in the Senate, and came to Mr. Lincoln for signature in the closing hours of the session. He laid it aside and went on with other business, despite the evident anxiety of several friends, who feared his failure to indorse it would lose the Republicans many votes in the Northwest. In stating his attitude to his cabinet, he said: [455]

    “This bill and the position of these gentlemen seem to me, in asserting that the insurrectionary States are no longer in the Union, to make the fatal admission that States, whenever they please, may of their own motion dissolve their connection with the Union. Now we cannot survive that admission, I am convinced. If that be true, I am not President; these gentlemen are not Congress. I have laboriously endeavored to avoid that question ever since it first began to be mooted, and thus to avoid confusion and disturbance in our own councils. It was to obviate this question that I earnestly favored the movement for an amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, which passed the Senate and failed in the House. I thought it much better, if it were possible, to restore the Union without the necessity of a violent quarrel among its friends as to whether certain States have been in or out of the Union during the war — a merely metaphysical question, and one unnecessary to be forced into discussion.”

    But though every member of the cabinet agreed with him, he foresaw the importance of the step he had resolved to take, and its possible disastrous consequences to himself. When some one said that the threats of the radicals were without foundation, and that the people would not bolt their ticket on a question of metaphysics, he answered:

    If they choose to make a point upon this, I do not doubt that they can \do harm. They have never been friendly to me. At all events, I must keep some consciousness of being somewhere near right. I must keep some standard or principle fixed within myself.

    Convinced, after fullest deliberation, that the bill was too restrictive in its provisions, and yet unwilling to reject whatever of practical good might be accomplished [456] by it, he disregarded precedents, and acting on his lifelong rule of taking the people into his confidence, issued a proclamation on July 8, giving a copy of the bill of Congress, reciting the circumstances under which it was passed, and announcing that while he was unprepared by formal approval of the bill to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration, or to set aside the free-State governments already adopted in Arkansas and Louisiana, or to declare that Congress was competent to decree the abolishment of slavery; yet he was fully satisfied with the plan as one very proper method of reconstruction, and promised executive aid to any State that might see fit to adopt it.

    The great mass of Republican voters, who cared little for the “metaphysics” of the case, accepted this proclamation, as they had accepted that issued six months before, as the wisest and most practicable method of handling the question; but among those already hostile to the President, and those whose devotion to the cause of freedom was so ardent as to make them look upon him as lukewarm, the exasperation which was already excited increased. The indignation of Mr. Davis and of Mr. Wade, who had called the bill up in the Senate, at seeing their work thus brought to nothing, could not be restrained; and together they signed and published in the New York Tribune of August 5 the most vigorous attack ever directed against the President from his own party; insinuating that only the lowest motives dictated his action, since by refusing to sign the bill he held the electoral votes of the rebel States at his personal dictation; calling his approval of the bill of Congress as a very proper plan for any State choosing to adopt it, a “studied outrage” ; and admonishing the people to “consider the remedy of these [457] usurpations, and, having found it,” to “fearlessly execute it.”

    Congress had already repealed the fugitive-slave law, and to the voters at large, who joyfully accepted the emancipation proclamation, it mattered very little whether the “institution” came to its inevitable end, in the fragments of territory where it yet remained, by virtue of congressional act or executive decree. This tempest over the method of reconstruction had, therefore, little bearing on the presidential campaign, and appealed more to individual critics of the President than to the mass of the people.

    Mr. Chase entered in his diary: “The President pocketed the great bill . . . He did not venture to veto, and so put it in his pocket. It was a condemnation of his amnesty proclamation and of his general policy of reconstruction, rejecting the idea of possible reconstruction with slavery, which neither the President nor his chief advisers have, in my opinion, abandoned.” Mr. Chase was no longer one of the chief advisers. After his withdrawal from his hopeless contest for the presidency, his sentiments toward Mr. Lincoln took on a tinge of bitterness which increased until their friendly association in the public service became no longer possible; and on June 30 he sent the President his resignation, which was accepted. There is reason to believe that he did not expect such a prompt severing of their official relations, since more than once, in the months of friction which preceded this culmination, he had used a threat to resign as means to carry some point in controversy.

    Mr. Lincoln, on accepting his resignation, sent the name of David Tod of Ohio to the Senate as his successor; but, receiving a telegram from Mr. Tod declining on the plea of ill health, substituted that of [458] William Pitt Fessenden, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, whose nomination was instantly confirmed and commanded general approval.

    Horace Greeley, editor of the powerful New York Tribune, had become one of those patriots whose discouragement and discontent led them, during the summer of 1864, to give ready hospitality to any suggestions to end the war. In July he wrote to the President, forwarding the letter of one “Wm. Cornell Jewett of Colorado,” which announced the arrival in Canada of two ambassadors from Jefferson Davis with full powers to negotiate a peace. Mr. Greeley urged, in his over-fervid letter of transmittal, that the President make overtures on the following plan of adjustment: First. The Union to be restored and declared perpetual. Second. Slavery to be utterly and forever abolished. Third. A complete amnesty for all political offenses. Fourth. Payment of four hundred million dollars to the slave States, pro rata, for their slaves. Fifth. Slave States to be represented in proportion to their total population. Sixth. A national convention to be called at once.

    Though Mr. Lincoln had no faith in Jewett's story, and doubted whether the embassy had any existence, he determined to take immediate action on this proposition. He felt the unreasonableness and injustice of Mr. Greeley's letter, which in effect charged his administration with a cruel disinclination to treat with the rebels, and resolved to convince him at least, and perhaps others, that there was no foundation for these reproaches. So he arranged that the witness of his willingness to listen to any overtures that might come from the South should be Mr. Greeley himself, and answering his letter at once on July 9, said:

    If you can find any person, anywhere, professing [459] to have any proposition of Jefferson Davis in writing, for peace, embracing the restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery, whatever else it embraces, say to him he may come to me with you, and that if he really brings such proposition he shall at the least have safe conduct with the paper (and without publicity, if he chooses) to the point where you shall have met him. The same if there be two or more persons.

    This ready acquiescence evidently surprised and somewhat embarrassed Mr. Greeley, who replied by several letters of different dates, but made no motion to produce his commissioners. At last, on the fifteenth, to end a correspondence which promised to be indefinitely prolonged, the President telegraphed him: “I was not expecting you to send me a letter, but to bring me a man or men.” Mr. Greeley then went to Niagara, and wrote from there to the alleged commissioners, Clement C. Clay and James P. Holcombe, offering to conduct them to Washington, but neglecting to mention the two conditions-restoration of the Union and abandonment of slavery-laid down in Mr. Lincoln's note of the ninth and repeated by him on the fifteenth. Even with this great advantage, Clay and Holcombe felt themselves too devoid of credentials to accept Mr. Greeley's offer, but replied that they could easily get credentials, or that other agents could be accredited, if they could be sent to Richmond armed with “the circumstances disclosed in this correspondence.”

    This, of course, meant that Mr. Lincoln should take the initiative in suing the Richmond authorities for peace on terms proposed by them. The essential impossibility of these terms was not, however, apparent to Mr. Greeley, who sent them on to Washington, soliciting fresh instructions. With unwearied patience, [460] Mr. Lincoln drew up a final paper, “To whom it may Concern,” formally restating his position, and despatched Major Hay with it to Niagara. This ended the conference; the Confederates charging the President through the newspapers with a “sudden and entire change of views” ; while Mr. Greeley, being attacked by his colleagues of the press for his action, could defend himself only by implied censure of the President, utterly overlooking the fact that his own original letter had contained the identical propositions ,Mr. Lincoln insisted upon.

    The discussion grew so warm that both he and his assailants at last joined in a request to Mr. Lincoln to permit the publication of the correspondence. This was, of course, an excellent opportunity for the President to vindicate his own proceeding. But he rarely looked at such matters from the point of view of personal advantage, and he feared that the passionate, almost despairing appeals of the most prominent Republican editor of the North for peace at any cost, disclosed in the correspondence, would deepen the gloom in the public mind and have an injurious effect upon the Union cause. The spectacle of the veteran journalist, who was justly regarded as the leading controversial writer on the antislavery side, ready to sacrifice everything for peace, and frantically denouncing the government for refusing to surrender the contest, would have been, in its effect upon public opinion, a disaster equal to the loss of a great battle. He therefore proposed to Mr. Greeley, in case the letters were published, to omit some of the most vehement passages; and took Mr. Greeley's refusal to assent to this as a veto on their publication.

    It was characteristic of him that, seeing the temper in which Mr. Greeley regarded the transaction, he [461] dropped the matter and submitted in silence to the misrepresentations to which he was subjected by reason of it. Some thought he erred in giving any hearing to the rebels; some criticized his choice of a commissioner; and the opposition naturally made the most of his conditions of negotiation, and accused him of embarking in a war of extermination in the interests of the negro. Though making no public effort to set himself right, he was keenly alive to their attitude. To a friend he wrote:

    Saying reunion and abandonment of slavery would be considered, if offered, is not saying that nothing else or less would be considered, if offered.... Allow me to remind you that no one, having control of the rebel armies, or, in fact, having any influence whatever in the rebellion, has offered, or intimated, a. willingness to a restoration of the Union, in any event, or on any condition whatever . . . If Jefferson Davis wishes for himself, or for the benefit of his friends at the North, to know what I would do if he were to offer peace and reunion, saying nothing about slavery, let him try me.

    If the result of Mr. Greeley's Niagara efforts left any doubt that peace was at present unattainable, the fact was demonstrated beyond question by the published report of another unofficial and volunteer negotiation which was proceeding at the same time. In May, 1863, James F. Jaquess, D. D., a Methodist clergyman of piety and religious enthusiasm, who had been appointed by Governor Yates colonel of an Illinois regiment, applied for permission to go South, urging that by virtue of his church relations he could, within ninety days, obtain acceptable terms of peace from the Confederates. The military superiors to whom he submitted the request forwarded it to Mr. [462] Lincoln with a favorable indorsement; and the President replied, consenting that they grant him a furlough, if they saw fit, but saying:

    He cannot go with any government authority whatever. This is absolute and imperative.

    Eleven days later he was back again within Union lines, claiming to have valuable “unofficial” proposals for peace. President Lincoln paid no attention to his request for an interview, and in course of time he returned to his regiment. Nothing daunted, however, a year later he applied for and received permission to repeat his visit, this time in company with J. R. Gilmore, a lecturer and writer, but, as before, expressly without instruction or authority from Mr. Lincoln. They went to Richmond, and had an extended interview with Mr. Davis, during which they proposed to him a plan of adjustment as visionary as it was unauthorized, its central feature being a general election to be held over the whole country, North and South, within sixty days, on the two propositions,--peace with disunion and Southern independence, or peace with Union, emancipation, no confiscation, and universal amnesty,--the majority vote to decide, and the governments at Washington and Richmond to be finally bound by the decision.

    The interview resulted in nothing but a renewed declaration from Mr. Davis that he would fight for separation to the bitter end — a declaration which, on the whole, was of service to the Union cause, since, to a great extent, it stopped the clamor of the peace factionists during the presidential campaign. Not entirely, however. There was still criticism enough to induce Henry J. Raymond, chairman of the executive committee of the Republican party, to write a letter on August 22, suggesting to Mr. Lincoln that he ought [463] to appoint a commission in due form to make proffers of peace to Davis on the sole condition of acknowledging the supremacy of the Constitution; all other questions to be settled in a convention of the people of all the States.

    Mr. Lincoln answered this patiently and courteously, framing, to give point to his argument, an experimental draft of instructions with which he proposed, in case such proffers were made, to send Mr. Raymond himself to the rebel authorities. On seeing these in black and white, Raymond, who had come to Washington to urge his project, readily agreed with the President and Secretaries Seward, Stanton, and Fessenden, that to carry it out would be worse than losing the presidential contest: it would be ignominiously surrendering it in advance.

    “Nevertheless,” wrote an inmate of the White House, “the visit of himself and committee here did great good. They found the President and cabinet much better informed than themselves, and went home encouraged and cheered.”

    The Democratic managers had called the national convention of their party to meet on the fourth of July, 1864; but after the nomination of Fremont at Cleveland, and of Lincoln at Baltimore, it was thought prudent to postpone it to a later date, in the hope that something in the chapter of accidents might arise to the advantage of the opposition. It appeared for a while as if this maneuver were to be successful. The military situation was far from satisfactory. The terrible fighting of Grant's army in Virginia had profoundly shocked and depressed the country; and its movement upon Petersburg, so far without decisive results, had contributed little hope or encouragement. The campaign of Sherman in Georgia gave as yet no positive [464] assurance of the brilliant results it afterward attained. The Confederate raid into Maryland and Pennsylvania in July was the cause of great annoyance and exasperation.

    This untoward state of things in the field of military operations found its exact counterpart in the political campaign. Several circumstances contributed to divide and discourage the administration party. The resignation of Mr. Chase had seemed to not a few leading Republicans a presage of disintegration in the government. Mr. Greeley's mission at Niagara Falls had unsettled and troubled the minds of many. The Democrats, not having as yet appointed a candidate or formulated a platform, were free to devote all their leisure to attacks upon the administration. The rebel emissaries in Canada, being in thorough concert with the leading peace men of the North, redoubled their efforts to disturb the public tranquillity, and not without success. In the midst of these discouraging circumstances the manifesto of Wade and Davis had appeared to add its depressing influence to the general gloom.

    Mr. Lincoln realized to the full the tremendous issues of the campaign. Asked in August by a friend who noted his worn looks, if he could not go away for a fortnight's rest, he replied:

    I cannot fly from my thoughts-my solicitude for this great country follows me wherever I go. I do not think it is personal vanity or ambition, though I am not free from these infirmities, but I cannot but feel that the weal or woe of this great nation will be decided in November. There is no program offered by any wing of the Democratic party, but that must result in the permanent destruction of the Union.

    “But, Mr. President,” his friend objected, “General [465] McClellan is in favor of crushing out this rebellion by force. He will be the Chicago candidate.”

    “Sir, the slightest knowledge of arithmetic will prove to any man that the rebel armies cannot be destroyed by Democratic strategy. It would sacrifice all the white men of the North to do it. There are now in the service of the United States nearly one hundred and fifty thousand able-bodied colored men, most of them under arms, defending and acquiring Union territory. The Democratic strategy demands that these forces be disbanded, and that the masters be conciliated by restoring them to slavery . .. You cannot conciliate the South if you guarantee to them ultimate success; and the experience of the present war proves their success is inevitable if you fling the compulsory labor of millions of black men into their side of the scale. . . . Abandon all the posts now garrisoned by black men, take one hundred and fifty thousand men from our side and put them in the battle-field or corn-field against us, and we would be compelled to abandon the war in three weeks . ... My enemies pretend I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition. So long as I am President it shall be carried on for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. But no human power can subdue this rebellion without the use of the emancipation policy and every other policy calculated to weaken the moral and physical forces of the rebellion. . . . Let my enemies prove to the country that the destruction of slavery is not necessary to a restoration of the Union. I will abide the issue.”

    The political situation grew still darker. When at last, toward the end of August, the general gloom had enveloped even the President himself, his action was most original and characteristic. Feeling that the [466] campaign was going against him, he made up his mind deliberately as to the course he should pursue, and laid down for himself the action demanded by his conviction of duty. He wrote on August 23 the following memorandum:

    This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration, as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.

    He then folded and pasted the sheet in such manner that its contents could not be read, and as the cabinet came together he handed this paper to each member successively, requesting them to write their names across the back of it. In this peculiar fashion he pledged himself and the administration to accept loyally the anticipated verdict of the people against him, and to do their utmost to save the Union in the brief remainder of his term of office. He gave no intimation to any member of his cabinet of the nature of the paper they had signed until after his reelection.

    The Democratic convention was finally called to meet in Chicago on August 29. Much had been expected by the peace party from the strength and audacity of its adherents in the Northwest; and, indeed, the day of the meeting of the convention was actually the date appointed by rebel emissaries in Canada for an outbreak which should effect that revolution in the northwestern States which had long been their chimerical dream. This scheme of the American Knights, however, was discovered and guarded against through the usual treachery of some of their members; and it [467] is doubtful if the Democrats reaped any real, permanent advantage from the delay of their convention.

    On coming together, the only manner in which the peace men and war Democrats could arrive at an agreement was by mutual deception. The war Democrats, led by the delegation from New York, were working for a military candidate; while the peace Democrats, under the leadership of Vallandigham, who had returned from Canada and was allowed to remain at large through the half-contemptuous and half-calculated leniency of the government he defied, bent all their energies to a clear statement of their principles in the platform.

    Both got what they desired. General McClellan was nominated on the first ballot, and Vallandigham wrote the only plank worth quoting in the platform. It asserted: “That after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which . . the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part,” public welfare demands “that immediate efforts be made for.a cessation of hostilities.” It is altogether probable that this distinct proposition of surrender to the Confederates might have been modified or defeated in full convention if the war Democrats had had the courage of their convictions; but they were so intent upon the nomination of McClellan, that they considered the platform of secondary importance, and the fatal resolutions were adopted without debate.

    Mr. Vallandigham, having thus taken possession of the convention, next adopted the candidate, and put the seal of his sinister approval on General McClellan by moving that his nomination be made unanimous, which was done amid great cheering. George H. Pendleton was nominated for Vice-President, and the [468] convention adjourned — not sine die, as is customary, but “subject to be called at any time and place the executive national committee shall designate.” The motives of this action were not avowed, but it was taken as a significant warning that the leaders of the Democratic party held themselves ready for any extraordinary measures which the exigencies of the time might provoke or invite.

    The New-Yorkers, however, had the last word, for Governor Seymour, in his letter as chairman of the committee to inform McClellan of his nomination, assured him that “those for whom we speak were animated with the most earnest, devoted, and prayerful desire for the salvation of the American Union” ; and the general, knowing that the poison of death was in the platform, took occasion in his letter of acceptance to renew his assurances of devotion to the Union, the Constitution, the laws, and the flag of his country. After having thus absolutely repudiated the platform upon which he was nominated, he coolly concluded:

    Believing that the views here expressed are those of the convention and the people you represent, I accept the nomination.

    His only possible chance of success lay, of course, in his war record. His position as a candidate on a platform of dishonorable peace would have been no less desperate than ridiculous. But the stars in their courses fought against the Democratic candidates. Even before the convention that nominated them, Farragut had won the splendid victory of Mobile Bay; during the very hours when the streets of Chicago were blazing with Democratic torches, Hood was preparing to evacuate Atlanta; and the same newspaper that printed Vallandigham's peace platform announced Sherman's entrance into the manufacturing metropolis of Georgia. [469] The darkest hour had passed; dawn was at hand, and amid the thanksgivings of a grateful people, and the joyful salutes of great guns, the presidential campaign began.

    When the country awoke to the true significance of the Chicago platform, the successes of Sherman excited the enthusiasm of the people, and the Unionists, arousing from their midsummer languor, began to show their confidence in the Republican candidate, the hopelessness of all efforts to undermine him became evident.

    The electoral contest began with the picket firing in Vermont and Maine in September, was continued in what might be called the grand guard fighting in October in the great States of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and the final battle took place all along the line on November 8. To Mr. Lincoln this was one of the most solemn days of his life. Assured of his personal success, and made devoutly confident by the military successes of the last few weeks that the day of peace and the reestablishment of the Union was at hand, he felt no elation, and no sense of triumph over his opponents. The thoughts that filled his mind were expressed in the closing sentences of the little speech he made in response to a group of serenaders that greeted him when, in the early morning hours, he left the War Department, where he had gone on the evening of election to receive the returns:

    I am thankful to God for this approval of the people; but, while deeply grateful for this mark of their confidence in me, if I know my heart, my gratitude is free from any taint of personal triumph. I do not impugn the motives of any one opposed to me. It is no pleasure to me to triumph over any one, but I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people's [470] resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity.

    Lincoln and Johnson received a popular majority of 41 1,281, and two hundred and twelve out of two hundred and thirty-three electoral votes, only those of New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky, twenty-one in all, being cast for McClellan. In his annual message to Congress, which met on December 5, President Lincoln gave the best summing up of the results of the election that has ever been written:

    The purpose of the people within the loyal States to maintain the integrity of the Union was never more firm nor more nearly unanimous than now. . . No candidate for any office whatever, high or low, has ventured to seek votes on the avowal that he was for giving up the Union. There have been much impugning of motives and much heated controversy as to the proper means and best mode of advancing the Union cause; but on the distinct issue of Union or no Union the politicians have shown their instinctive knowledge that there is no diversity among the people. In affording the people the fair opportunity of showing one to another and to the world this firmness and unanimity of purpose, the election has been of vast value to the national cause.

    On the day of election General McClellan resigned his commission in the army, and the place thus made vacant was filled by the appointment of General Philip H. Sheridan, a fit type and illustration of the turn in the tide of affairs, which was to sweep from that time rapidly onward to the great decisive national triumph.

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